Board Wars: The Administration Strikes Back

In row over college’s finances, the administration needs to be even more transparent


Joash Mencias

The entrance to the board of trustees meeting room in the Student Services Center.

Cue scrolling text.

A short time ago, in a board room very, very close…it is a period of civil war. Rebel Tea Partiers, striking with accusations of hidden expenses and sketchy accounting, have embarrassed the administration, and by extension the college.

Open The Books Illinois, an outgrowth of conservative PAC For the Good of Illinois, has had their eyes focused on the College of DuPage since earlier this year. They recently released a 500-page document, detailing a number of “hidden expenses” not approved by the board. Included are such damning accounts as: Office Depot, Sodexo and Computer Discount Warehouse. Oh, and us. Yes, friends, The Courier is on the list.

But what does this list actually mean? At the board meeting last week, the financial affairs department broke it down for us.

The payments are normal expenses. Most of them are entirely uncontroversial. The reason they are classified as such is for efficiency’s sake; it wouldn’t make sense for the board to approve of every $100 transaction made. This is standard practice for governments the size of the college. Nothing sketchy here.

Some of the payments are more than $15,000? That’s because multiple payments to the same vendor, each less than the $15,000 cap, have been combined into a single check for convenience’s sake. This seems a bit less intuitive, but it makes sense if you think about several different subgroups in the bureaucracy purchasing things from the same vendor. Think of it like a parent buying lunch for their two kids. Each kid orders separately, but the parent pays for it all at once.

Then we get to the weird stuff. Over $243,000 spent on wine and alcohol, designated as instructional supplies. $23,000 to a shooting club for President Breuder. The sketch-dar is going off. What’s going on here?

The “instructional supplies” thing seems laughable, but Lynn Saptya, COD’s financial controller, wrote the concerns off, stating that the college didn’t have a food and beverage account set up. The alcohol is presumably used in the culinary management program, as well as the Waterleaf restaurant on campus. It does seem like a lot, but keep in mind much of it is resold- it isn’t sitting in a cabinet in Breuder’s office.

The shooting club membership can also be explained. It is used as an off-campus meeting site. The college pays for it, and Breuder takes people there for meetings, actually doing college business. This is apparently standard practice for community colleges. Most in the area have a country club membership of some kind. It seems like an unnecessary expense, given the quality of the public golf courses in the area that seem like they could serve a similar purpose, but that is an entirely different conversation.

The problem with all of this is that it’s so complicated. Accounting at an institution such as the college is, believe it or not, difficult. There is a massive amount of money moving into, and out of this place, and as such it seems like a special amount of oversight is required. It also appears that this oversight already exists. We can talk about whether or not the school should be spending money like this, but that is a different conversation than questioning if it is allowed to.

The arguments presented by critics of the school are especially effective because they are simple. It is far easier to understand and digest “they’re stealing our money” than it is to really understand what’s going on. Their arguments also gain steam emotionally. We just saw a picture of our president standing on an endangered species that he shot plastered all over the internet, and now we hear the college is paying for his shooting club? Something doesn’t seem right about that at a gut level.

The core issue is one of perception. Whether or not the administration has done anything wrong, it certainly feels like they have. Students around campus are taking note in increasing numbers. The stories have run on several national-level news sites.

At the Oct. 16 board of trustees meeting, the administration showed some teeth in systematically dismantling these accusations. Their job is not done, however. If they want to regain the perception of legitimacy, they must redouble their efforts to be both transparent and to explain the rationale behind their decisions when it comes to spending money. The Tea Party is winning the war of public opinion, it would seem, even if they’re wrong.